Australians love to travel. However, many of us bring home unwanted illnesses, including hepatitis A. This is the commonest vaccine-preventable infection caught by travellers.
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Travellers to developing countries in Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Central and South America and Africa are most at-risk, even in top class hotels. There is also a risk from some Mediterranean and eastern European countries.
Because the incubation period ranges from 2 to 7 weeks, the infection often appears long after returning home.
Hepatitis A usually starts with fever, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal discomfort. After a few days, the urine becomes dark, bowel motions get pale and jaundice appears (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
Most people feel better after about a month, although tiredness may persist for up to 12 months. Almost all cases make a full recovery.
Travellers mostly catch hepatitis A from contaminated food and drink but also sexual contact, especially oral-anal practices.
Hepatitis A can be prevented
The golden rules to avoid infection are careful handwashing before meals and following safe eating rules. Avoid salads, tap water, ice in drinks, and uncooked shellfish, vegetables and meats. Hot cooked foods, fruits you can peel yourself and boiled or bottled drinks are usually OK. Always follow safe sexual practices.
Hepatitis A vaccination is highly effective and is recommended for all travellers to high-risk countries. One injection lasts at least a year. A 2nd dose 6-12 months after the first extends protection to about 20 years.
Side effects from vaccination are usually mild and include soreness at the injection site, headache and tiredness.
See your doctor for further advice or visit www.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/hav.htm.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.